Tuesday 16 July 2019

Gerard O'Regan: 'Dark arts to the fore in Tory contest as UK and EU play Russian roulette'

Mr Gove’s leadership bid has been faltering since it emerged that he had taken cocaine several times in his 30s. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Mr Gove’s leadership bid has been faltering since it emerged that he had taken cocaine several times in his 30s. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Gerard O'Regan

'Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." The old biblical aside suggests a cautionary note when tempted towards a rush to judgement. And so it is with tales of drug-taking, deceit and deception abounding about the Westminster parliament.

The battle to succeed Theresa May is a classic example of the 'dark arts' running amok in a viciously divided party.

The glittering prize could hardly be more golden - a chance to overnight become leader of the Conservatives and also prime minister.

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Michael Gove, who in a previous life suggested the British army rather than the Good Friday Agreement should sort out Northern Ireland, found that snorting cocaine in his youth came back to haunt him.

Knowing all was to be revealed in an upcoming book, he orchestrated a classic pre-emptive strike. He admitted to his failings and pleaded forgiveness on the basis of a grovelling apology.

But he was on a sticky wicket when charged with galloping hypocrisy.

How could he justify his behaviour when at the same time he was calling for draconian jail sentences for drug dealers? His is a classic dilemma for those cocooned in middle-class privilege. It was argued his drug use - however indirectly - contributed to the cycle of violence and death among pushers and dealers in the criminal underworld. The whole debacle left him on the back foot.

Brexit has, of course, dominated this Tory leadership contest. Who is for a hard, medium or soft option? From an Irish perspective, we can but quietly cheer from the sidelines for anybody close to the middle ground. Jeremy Hunt is the front-runner on this ticket. The slightly maverick contender Rory Stewart would be an even better bet from our perspective, given his unequivocal determination to keep the extremists at bay. But he was never going to make it to the top job.

And so one thing has led to another. Boris Johnson, master of the flippant, and so often untrue, one-liner, found his time had finally come. Barring what will surely be a bizarre act of self-destruction, he looks certain to get the keys to 10 Downing Street. His handlers this time out are obviously paranoid he will stray off-script. Saying the wrong thing, in the wrong way, at the wrong time, could wreck his chances of wearing the crown.

Sheer good luck has played its part in his rise to the top. But in fairness, this is vital for all trying to climb any greasy pole. More showman than politician, he has the charlatan-type qualities to make him, at least for some, a man of the moment.

His mission statement is a peculiar mix of dogmatism and vagueness. But will he really risk widespread job losses by allowing the UK crash out of the EU without any kind of exit deal? Will he refuse to pay billions of euro as part of a legitimate and legal debt London owes Brussels? Most of all, will he carry out his threat to effectively 'close down' parliament for a time, simply because not enough MPs back his high-risk plans?

Despite all the bluff and bluster Johnson uses to woo support, there is also evidence of moderate and cautious instincts. However, once in the prime minister's chair he could find the momentum of events are outside his control. Theresa May discovered this to be the case as she finally succumbed to defeat; hemmed in on all sides, she simply ran out of wriggle room.

Meanwhile, the backstop will once again be centre stage. As was always the case, all the options for any Irish government - determined to avoid a hard Border in the interests of peace - are problematic. And a no-deal exit from the EU by a Johnson-led regime will present a host of challenges. But that does not minimise the right of Dublin and Brussels to stand firm and fight their own corner as they see fit.

What is going to happen in the next few crucial months? The truth is nobody knows - and that includes the man who is surely prime minister in waiting. Might he have the ingenuity to orchestrate a backstop face-saving fudge, which will still protect core Irish interests and settle nerves all round?

Powerbrokers in Brussels, London, and Dublin play for ever higher stakes. They are ensnared in a kind of Russian roulette.

We could have serious casualties before summer's end.

Irish Independent

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